Caesars brings big names, Cirque brings ‘Immortal’ in 2011

When it came to Las Vegas casino entertainment, the 99 percent at least knew who held the 1 percent of wealth: The noblest Roman of them all. Hail Caesar.

It’s easier to explain why the Colosseum at Caesars Palace was confident to make the only real investment in 2011 show business than it is to explain why the other big players sat on their wallets, trying to discount their way out of a rotten economy while nightclubs continued to siphon the young dollar.

The Colosseum return of Celine Dion and Elton John, plus Rod Stewart joining the rotation in earnest, proved you can spend money to make money, as long as you have the names people still pay to see.

It helped that two big companies — Caesars Entertainment Corp. and concert promoters AEG Live – could divvy up the tab in various ways for the superstars, with Caesars picking up the bill entirely for John and his “Million Dollar Piano.” The show-offy name aside, it turned out to be more humble and resonant than the pop legend’s previous Caesars showcase.

Likewise, Dion shed the excess baggage of her Cirque du Soleil-style trappings this time, and came into her own as an unobstructed personality. The new forum that debuted in March was the year’s unequivocal home run, a tasteful showcase where the full orchestra came off as money wisely spent, not ostentatious like the boomtown days.

For that kind of empty spectacle, one had to go to “The Immortal,” Cirque du Soleil’s version of a “guess you can’t blame ’em for doing it” sure thing.

The Michael Jackson tribute — a touring version paving the way for the permanent installation in 2013 — was big and every bit as bizarre as you would expect of Cirque du Soleil inspired by Jackson’s worldview. And yet it felt a bit empty in a cavernous arena. The creative friends of the pop star couldn’t quite come up with a comparable substitute for The Gloved One’s actual presence.

Still, the collaborators chose an arguably brave faith in Jackson’s vision when they could have tried to play his hits off as a mere soundtrack to the usual Cirque shenanigans. That seemed to be the fate in store for “Viva Elvis” in 2012, before November’s surprise announcement that the show will likely close at Aria by this time next year, its replacement to be determined.

That would be the first sign that Cirque isn’t too big to fail since “Mystere” opened this weekend of 1993. If you believe in omens, perhaps it’s a sign that forced branding with music icons may not be a bottomless well, and that it’s time for Cirque — and Las Vegas in general — to serve up more creativity on a lower budget.

For inspiration on that front, you could look to the front lawn of Caesars Palace, not the Colosseum. It’s there you find “Absinthe,” a stylish, shabby chic concoction of familiar elements in a fresh package.

The forgotten, north end of the Strip collectively decided there was less risk in letting some new talent have a shot than in continued copycatting the tired genres of topless, magic, etc. So Frankie Moreno’s inspiring all-around talent is the new star in residence at the Stratosphere, while Smithereens veteran Pat DiNizio shares his heartfelt memories at the Riviera in “Confessions of a Rock Star.”

If these guys take off, perhaps the Tropicana Las Vegas and Las Vegas Hilton will get their mojos working again after wasting much of 2011 on false starts or downright bad ideas, such as the Hilton’s double dose of magic tragedy in “Triumph” and strikeout king Steve Wyrick.

In lieu of multimillion-dollar spectacle, the year told us that human personalities, whether big-name stars or less so, are still something we might step out of the club line to see.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at or 702-383-0288.


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